So, plastic straws. By now, we all know how harmful to the environment they can be. Aussies use more than 3 billion plastic straws every year and, unfortunately, a lot of those will end up in landfill and waterways. And since they aren’t recyclable or biodegradable, they end up doing a lot of damage to the environment.
While straws have been getting the lion’s share of media attention lately, food packaging in general is a major contributor to landfill and waterway pollution.
Australians generated 4.4 million tonnes of packaging waste in 2018, with about 44% of this ending up in landfill.
While the packaging industry is evolving – introducing a range of sustainable, recyclable and ethically sourced packaging – change has been slow to happen, especially at a government or industry level.
Luckily, there is plenty we can do at an individual level to reduce the damage excess food packaging is doing to our environment.
Refuse unnecessary packaging
Since the plastic bag ban came into effect in Victoria, people have started getting better at this. But it’s about more than just bringing reusable shopping bags to the supermarket. There are plenty of other ways you can reduce the amount of packaging you use.
At the supermarket, don’t uses plastic bags for fruit or vegetables. Carry reusable coffee cups, rather than getting disposable cups every time you buy a takeaway coffee.
And always refuse any excess packaging that you don’t need. This includes bags, napkins, lids, takeaway cutlery and so on.
Shopping smarter involves asking yourself “do I really need this?” before you make a purchase. Try to avoid frivolous or impulse purchases and get into the habit of thinking through each purchase before you buy.
If you do decide to buy something, see if there’s a more environmentally friendly alternative available.
Buying in bulk is another great way to shop smarter and cut back on your packaging, especially for non-perishable food items. Some bulk food stores even encourage you to bring in your own containers for products like cooking oils, nuts, rice, lentils, legumes, cereals and other bulk products. This doesn’t just reduce packaging; it eliminates it altogether!
Make better packaging choices
When you’re shopping, start factoring in the packaging when deciding what brands to buy. Choose products that have the least amount of packaging, the most recyclable packaging or packaging with the high recycled content.Glass, aluminium, paper and cardboard are the best materials when it comes to recycling. While most plastics can be recycled, it’s always best to reduce your reliance on plastic.
You should also look for packaging that’s reusable, like glass jars. These make for handy storage containers around the house, which means they won’t go straight to landfill.
When it comes to your favourite takeaway restaurants, find out if they use recyclable or sustainable meal packaging, like bamboo or bagasse packaging products.
Packaging at home
Making good packaging choices doesn’t end at the supermarket or cafe. Think about how you package and store food at home. Instead of using cling wrap for sandwiches, consider reusable sandwich bags or paper bags. Carry a drink bottle instead of buying plastic water bottles. Take cutlery to work instead of using plastic cutlery.
If your favourite takeaway joint uses plastic meal packaging, then keep these containers instead of throwing them away. They’re great for food storage and meal prep in the kitchen at home.
If you’re already making good packaging choices, then the next step is making sure you’re recycling properly. It’s important to understand what can and can’t be recycled through your council recycling bin and how these materials should be prepared. Sustainability Victoria has some great resources to help with this. Your local council will also provide information about their recycling program (as recycling guidelines can change according to council area).
Make smart choices
Reducing your food packaging ultimately comes down to making smart and informed choices. Once you know what to look for and you’re prepared with alternative packaging (like reusable carry bags and containers), you’re actually sacrificing very little in terms of convenience and doing plenty for the environment.